The Influence of Quantitative Data on My Students' Inquiries

I am on my way returning home from COPIS 2013 in State College, PA. Once again, the conference did not disappoint me. I love this conference because I always leave envigorated and intellectually challenged. Carl Glickman was the invited speaker and he challenged us to think about goodness and effectiveness in our supervision. As the conference progressed, we started talking about the role and value of human interaction in teaching and supervision. We concluded that the connection between supervisor and teacher or teacher and student is essential and that that connection is created and sustained through conversation. It is the art of the conversation that builds and maintains the human connection.

As I was reading my students' inquiries, I started to notice that their research questions were mostly about student learning. You might say that this is fantastic, and it is, but the measure by which they wanted to look at student learning was predominantly quantitative. It seems as if in our "data-driven decision-making" context, we might be losing the human component of understanding our students. If numbers are the only way we measure student learning and/or if numbers are the only measure that counts, I am concerned that we might lose the site that students are people. They are more than just numbers, and there are ways to look at them as complex individuals. However, that kind of data requires a kind of sophistication that exceeds numbers. It causes us to look behind a cold digit to the face - the person and all of her individualities and idiosyncracies - and it is our responsibility to help her. Numbers tell us one kind of data, but that's just it - one kind of data. Yet, it seems as if we esteem numbers, placing them on a pedastal of privilege and priority, and this concerns me greatly. Numbers can give the broad landscape, but the qualitative data provides in the detail that creates the landscape. We cannot ignore the fact that data can and does exist in multiple forms.

So as I look at my students' inquiries, I find that I have a task ahead of me. I wonder how I can help them think about what they really want to find out and to share with them that data can exist in more forms than just numbers. Words are data, too.